We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages regarding food, nutrition and health in the media. But how do we separate what’s fact from fiction? In this article,
A 2016 study showed ‘supportive and caring environment’ was the second most important factor for Australian parents choosing a school after ‘educational excellence’. One of the essential ways in which boarding schools care for students is through the meals they provide. Parents want to know their children are getting enough nutrients, they’re eating healthily and they’re not over or under eating. It’s also important to parents that catering staff behave in a caring and professional manner.
If students’ dietary needs aren’t met or they don’t enjoy the food, they won’t eat it. Without the proper nutrients, academic performance, moods and physical strength suffer. While providing too many unhealthy foods or an uncaring environment can lead to ‘comfort eating’, obesity and related health issues. Overeating also makes students more lethargic and negatively impacts concentration, mental health and mood.
A recent Australian study showed students who ate vegetables every night achieved NAPLAN scores that were an average of 86 points higher in writing than those who didn’t. While students with poor nutrition had more depression, anxiety, behavioural and concentration problems. It’s not just mood and study that is impacted by diet. Child athletes often have higher energy and fluid requirements, especially if they participate in all-day competitions or strenuous sports such as rowing or cross-country running. Young people require the right pre and post-game foods to support performance and subsequently replenish energy and muscle tissue once their training is done.
The good news is, it is possible to reverse the effects of poor nutrition in young people. After just one day of healthy eating, blood sugar stabilises, delivering more energy and making it easier to concentrate in class. After 28 days of eating enough fruit and vegetables, people sleep better and have stronger immune systems, so are likely to get sick less frequently. Teachers of students participating in a healthy school breakfast program reported participating students had better concentration, greater levels of engagement and focus, improved social skills, and academic outcomes.
Since quality, choice and freshness of the food provided at school is so vital to students and their parents, education providers must ensure the highest standard is made available at every meal. Catering teams should work closely with a dietitian and chef to build menus which offer the nutrition, variety and familiar tastes from home that boarding students need and crave. Find ways to make it easy for students to identify the healthier meal choices at point of service. When combined with a healthy eating education program, this can have powerfully positive impacts on pupils’ health now and for the rest of their lives.
Keep it fresh by taking advantage of seasonal produce, which will be at its peak quality, while providing value for money at the same time. Additionally, continually review and improve menus in line with your student body’s needs. This can be achieved via a combination of consultation with catering staff about which meals are most popular and regular feedback surveys from students.
Providing healthy, nutritionally balanced meals doesn’t just help you attract enrolments; it’s the foundation that supports every aspect of healthy, happy and high-achieving students.
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